Home Education Magazine
July-August 1997 - Columns
So Many Books - Joan Torkildson
The Bunyans - A Drop of Water - A Journey to the New World Lives of the Athletes - I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago
I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago
I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago, retold and illus. by Steven Kellogg, Morrow Junior Books, Sept. 1996, ISBN 0-688-13411-4, $16.00 hardcover, ages 5-up
No one retells a tall tale with more panache than Steven Kellogg. In this one, which was adapted from a nineteenth-century American folk song, multiple narrators boldly take credit for some of the most outrageous claims in history. One by one, they brag about having seen King Pharoah's daughter fish Moses out of the water, of seeing Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden, of showing Columbus the way to the New World, of secretly marrying Queen Elizabeth in Milwaukee, even of playing hopscotch with spacemen on the moon (with plans to visit Saturn). All of these outlandish boasts are embellished with Kellogg's own verse and typically exuberant illustrations.
At the back of the book readers will find the music and traditional lyrics for the folk song, "I Was Born About 10,000 Years ago." Readers unacquainted with Kellogg's previous retellings of tall tales won't want to miss Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed, Mike Fink and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett.
The Bunyans, by Audrey Wood, illus. by David Shannon, Blue Sky Press, Oct. 1996, ISBN 0-590-48089-8, $15.95 hardcover, ages 4-9.
Speaking of tall tales, I have a photograph somewhere, taken when I was around five or six years old. My oldest sister and I, both dressed in pedal pushers, are squinting into the sun while standing next to the famous Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue in Bemidji, Minnesota. Now I knew even back then that Paul Bunyan was taller than a redwood tree and stronger than fifty grizzly bears. But until I discovered this book, I had no idea that he was married and had two children.
When Paul Bunyan first spies pickax-wielding Carrie McIntie, it's love at first sight. After marrying and settling down in Maine, it isn't long before two new Bunyans come into the world: Little Jean, their jumbo boy, and Teeny, their equally gigantic girl. My favorite illustration shows a mightily annoyed Teeny with dozens of tiny black bears burrowed in her blond curls (she had inadvertently attracted them by accidently dumping a silo of syrup on her head). To rid his daughter of the varmints, Paul carves out a huge hole in the middle of the Niagara riverbed, thus forming Niagara Falls. The Bunyans boldly stomp throughout the United States, creating many natural wonders in their wake. Ma Bunyan needs hot water for washing clothes and dishes; hence, Old Faithful is uncapped. Teeny and Little Jean merrily cavort through America, creating the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado, carving out the coastline of Big Sur, and pitching in to help their parents build the Rockies.
Without a doubt, there's something quintessentially American about the legend of Paul Bunyan. Tall tale lovers of all ages will enjoy this fresh and original interpretation of one of America's most beloved folk heroes.
A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple
A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky, Scholastic, Sept. 1996, ISBN 0-590-50214-X, $9.95 hardcover, ages 9-14
This is one of those books that almost didn't get reviewed because my youngest daughter kept absconding with my review copy and hiding it in her room. And who can blame her? These books are perfect for homeschooled girls who are fond of historical fiction, which includes just about every homeschooled girl I know in this age group. Boys might enjoy reading them, too; my opinion on this issue is admittedly a bit shaky, since in our household the females outnumber the male three to one (four if you count the dog). And these diaries--call me old-fashioned--do seem like "girls' books."
A Journey to the New World is The first books in the Dear America series that Scholastic released last fall. The other books in the series are The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, by Kristiana Gregory, When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, by Barry Denenberg, Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, by Kristiana Gregory, and A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, by Patricia C. McKissack.
Each book in the series was extensively researched and inspired by actual letters and diaries of the particular historical period, thus providing readers with a highly intimate look at what it was like to journey on the Mayflower, endure the hardships of life during the Revolutionary and Civil wars, make an arduous and brave journey westward in a covered wagon, or keep hope alive within the bounds of slavery. At the end of the books are informative historical notes, as well as photographs, maps, recipes, songs, and other historical reproductions. The ribbon bookmarks and small trim size make the books seem like real diaries.
Would it be superfluous to add that these books would be absolutely terrific for supplementing a study of American history? Look for two new additions to the series this fall: I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, by Joyce Hansen, and So Far from Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, by Barry Denenberg.
A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder
A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder, by Walter Wick, Scholastic Press, Apr. 1997, ISBN 0-590-22197-3, $16.95 hardcover, ages 7-10
I have to confess, when I first saw the title of this book, my first thought was, "What could be so special about a drop of water?" I quickly found out, however, that to hastily judge a book by its humble title is more than a little foolish. The photographs within are nothing short of spectacular--and I try not to toss that term around willy-nilly.
Walter Wick, probably best known to readers as the photographer of Scholastic's highly acclaimed I Spy series, captures on film the unforgettable images of water droplets sparkling on the head of a pin, the nearly perfect sphere of a rainbow-colored soap bubble, the wonderful symmetry and variations of snowflakes, and the delicate etchings of frost and dew. Simple text and amazing photographs explain the scientific principles of molecular motion, evaporation, condensation, capillary attraction, refraction, and surface tension. At the end of the book, a listing of observations and experiments will help readers recreate and wonder about some of the simple experiments shown in the book.
I found the author's note at the very end of the book particularly interesting. Walter Wick writes that "many of the experiments in this book are the same as, or similar to, those used in books that introduced science to children nearly 100 years ago"--books such as Soap Bubbles and the Forces That Mold Them, written in 1896 by British scientist Charles Vernon Boys; A Study of Splashes, written in 1908 by A.M. Worthington; and The Fairy-Land of Science, written in 1878 by Arabella B. Buckley. Don't miss this one--it's definitely a gem.
Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought)
Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought), by Kathleen Krull, illus. by Kathryn Hewitt, Harcourt Brace & Co., March 1997, ISBN 0-15-200806-3, $19.00 hardcover, ages 8-12
Just when I start thinking that Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt have exhausted their supply of subject matter for the Lives of the ----- series, they manage to come up with still another title.
Like the previous books in the series (Lives of the Musicians and Lives of the Writers, reviewed in Nov/Dec 1994 HEM, and Lives of the Artists, reviewed in Mar/Apr 1996 HEM), the emphasis here is on little-known facts and oddities that readers are unlikely to find elsewhere. Babe Ruth, for instance, snacked between games on pickled eels and chocolate ice cream. Legendary football star Red Grange tried to make friends with baby alligators. Johnny Weissmuller's famous "Tarzan roar" was inspired by yodeling contests at the Austrian-German picnics he'd attended as a child. Figure skater Sonja Henie's possessions were so important to her that she once chased a burglar down an alley in her nightgown (er--she was wearing the nightgown, not the burglar).
The 20 athletes profiled represent almost every conceivable sport: football (Jim Thorpe, Red Grange), surfing (Duke Kahanamoku), baseball (Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente), swimming (Johnny Weissmuller, Gertrude Ederle), golf (Babe Didrikson Zaharias), skating (Sonja Henie), track and field (Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph), mountain climbing (Sir Edmund Hillary), hockey (Maurice Richard), tennis (Maureen Connolly, Arthur Ashe), basketball (Pete Maravich), soccer (PelĒ), volleyball (Flo Hyman), even martial arts (Bruce Lee). Each story in the collection ends with a couple of concise, one-paragraph anecdotes entitled "Athleticisms." © 1997 Joan Torkildson
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